Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is correct in asserting just how poorly the media covers his company. We know that because, after he tweeted that Version 9 of the company’s software would allow the firm to begin enabling “fully self-driving features,” numerous outlets started claiming complete driving autonomy was just around the corner. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that isn’t what’s happening.
To be fair, much of the confusion came via headlines suggesting Musk had explicitly promised a fully self-driving vehicle. While that’s not even close to what he did, we understand that it’s a heading too tempting for many to refuse. We’re betting Elon grasps this concept as well, which is why he chose his wording so carefully. Frankly, the CEO probably comprehends the media far better than the media understands his company, and he regularly uses this to his advantage.
While several outlets clarified that Tesla was actually implementing a software update (with unclear ramifications in the body of their text), plenty glossed over that aspect of the story. Instead, they decided to tack on Musk’s earlier promise that the Tesla Roadster would be offered with a SpaceX package — 10 small rocket thrusters to improve the vehicle’s dynamics.
We can’t say the rocket car claim is total nonsense; Tesla may eventually build one of those to help market the convertible. However, we’d be shocked if this became a genuine option for consumers. Still, Musk is adamant that the rockets are real. Following the claim, some personal history, and a mild media bashing, he told popular tech reviewer Marques Brownlee he wasn’t kidding.
Okay, that’s the rocket-powered roadster unequivocally confirmed then. But what of the self-driving claims the media is making on Musk’s behalf? In response to come constructive criticism about Autopilot’s inability to register the turn signals of other vehicles (as well as some lane merging mishaps), Elon said those issues would be addressed in Version 9 of Tesla’s software.
“That issue is better in latest Autopilot software rolling out now [and] fully fixed in August update as part of our long-awaited Tesla Version 9,” he said. “To date, Autopilot resources have rightly focused entirely on safety. With V9, we will begin to enable full self-driving features.”
For those who may not recall, Tesla released a Full Self Driving Package in 2016. As an $3,000 option on top of the $5,000 Autopilot feature, the upgrade has remained non-functional since its introduction. The plan was that the automaker would offer the package, which effectively doubles the vehicle’s sensor array, in the hope that Tesla could utilize it to offer full autonomy in a later over-the-air update. Presumably, Version 9 of the company’s software will allow some of those extra sensors to be put to use.
That could mean properly equipped Teslas could gain a self-parking “seek mode,” allowing the vehicle to drop you off before it goes in search of a parking spot, or it could simply become more adept at navigating roadways with less driver involvement. Theoretically, it could also deliver on Tesla’s promise of “short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat.” But we kind of doubt it.
Tesla has yet to conduct its fabled cross-country road trip with the car doing 100 percent of the work, so the odds of it suddenly delivering fully autonomous vehicles in the coming months are rather slim. Some of us would prefer seeing this instead of a series of incremental updates that continue taking drivers out of the game. But we’ll take whatever we can get in terms of new safety features, as there are an alarming number of videos showing Tesla drivers engaging in absolutely idiotic behavior or dozing off behind the wheel — including one of a possible Tesla employee that surfaced over the weekend.